At some point, someone somewhere is bound to ask the obvious question: Is Angel Lam a young Hong Kong woman who lives in America, or a young American woman who was born in Hong Kong? Having divided her life almost evenly between two cultures, she usually answers "both"—but that will hardly please the identity purists.
As Lam herself admits, her Chinese side has largely steered her artistry. ("I find myself drawn much more to stories from Chinese history than the Boston Tea Party or the American Civil War," she says.) That may partly be the "James Joyce factor," since the novelist claimed he was never more Irish than when he lived in Paris. But Lam, in fact, has such a thorough Hong Kong profile that her life story could be approved by the city's Legislative Council.
The daughter of a small-businessman father and a financier mother, Lam relocated with her family from Hong Kong to southern California after 1989, returning to the territory shortly before the handover to China. After her undergraduate studies at the HK Academy of Performing Arts, the overachiever left to pursue two master's degrees at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory and is currently a doctoral candidate at Peabody and an artist diploma candidate at Yale University.
From where I'm sitting, though—in Ho Man Tin, Kowloon, to be precise, halfway between her father's tropical fish store in Kowloon Tong and her mother's banking firm in the city's Central District—the composer has removed all doubt about which side dominates. When we met for tea last summer in Wan Chai, Lam admitted that she came back to Hong Kong not only to finish composing her piece, but also to have the dress for her Carnegie Hall debut made across the border in Shenzhen, where large numbers of Hong Kong residents regularly seek out bargain goods. My Cantonese mother-in-law would be proud.
Posted by Ken Smith